The dominant physical transport processes are analyzed in a free-surface microfluidic and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) chemical detection system. The analysis describes the characteristic fluid dynamics and mass transport effects occurring in a microfluidic detection system whose analyte absorption and concentration capability is designed to operate on principles inspired by canine olfaction. The detection system provides continuous, real-time monitoring of particular vapor-phase analytes at concentrations of 1 ppb. The system is designed with a large free-surface-to-volume ratio microfluidic channel which allows for polar or hydrophilic airborne analytes to readily be partitioned from the surrounding gas phase into the aqueous phase for detection. The microfluidic stream can concentrate certain molecules by up to 6 orders of magnitude, and SERS can enhance the Raman signal by 9–10 orders of magnitude for molecules residing in the so-called SERS “hot spots”, providing extremely high detection sensitivity. The resulting vibrational spectra are sufficiently specific to identify the detected analyte unambiguously. Detection performance was demonstrated using a nominal 1 ppb, 2,4-dinitrotoluene (2,4-DNT) vapor stream entrained within N2 gas. Applications to homeland security arise from the system’s high sensitivity and its ability to provide highly reproducible, continuous chemical detection monitoring with minimal sampling requirements.